Oryx and Crake: A Novel (Atwood, Margaret Eleanor)

by Margaret Atwood

Hardcover, 2003




Nan A. Talese (2003), Edition: First Edition, 383 pages


Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey-with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake-through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.

Media reviews

Oryx and Crake is a piece of dystopian fiction written from the point of Snowman (known as Jimmy in his former life) – the last human left on Earth. At least, he believes he’s the last human left on Earth until the end of the book. I found the parts of the book describing Snowman’s journey to Paradice (the dome in the compound where Crake did his work) to be a lot less interesting than his recollections of his previous life as Jimmy. I loved reading about how Jimmy and Crake met, the little signs that Crake gave off as to what he might be planning and the direction his thoughts might take in the future (though Jimmy didn’t recognize these until it was too late), etc. Crake is really the star of the show in this book in my mind – Jimmy simply acts as a vessel for us to learn about a character who is dead and who therefore cannot teach us about himself. Snowman’s adventures in real time seem almost pointless to me. Why not dedicate the whole book to Jimmy’s friendship with Crake, with just a bit of general explanation as to what’s going on now? I think the present would have been much more interesting if the Crakers were explored more than Jimmy’s struggle to survive and come to grips with what Crake had done. On the whole, however, I thought it was a great book.
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Set sometime in the future, this post-apocalyptic novel takes scientific research in the hands of madmen to its logical and frightening conclusion. Inspiring readers to pay more attention to the world around them, Atwood offers cautionary notes about the environment, bioengineering, the sacrifice of civil liberties, and the possible loss of those human values which make life more than just a physical experience. As the novel opens, some catastrophe has occurred, effectively wiping out human life. Only one lonely survivor and a handful of genetically altered humanoids remain, and they are slowly starving as they try to adjust to their changed circumstances.
In Margaret Atwood's first attempt at writing a novel, the main character was an ant swept downriver on a raft. She abandoned that book after the opening scene and became caught up in other activities, which she has described as ''sissy stuff like knitting and dresses and stuffed bunnies.'' That certainly does not sound like Ms. Atwood, who is known for the boldness of her fiction. Of course she was only 7 at the time.
Margaret Atwood has always taken a jaundiced view of human nature. Back when her mordant observations about marriage and other relations between the sexes had her marked down as a feminist, she took pains to fire off several novels in a row featuring weak, manipulative, dishonest and outright bad women, partly to prove that her skepticism was distributed fairly. She has always been of the opinion that people are a mixed bag of the occasionally decent and the frequently mendacious and that there's not much anyone can do to change that fact.
Genetic tinkering. Rampant profiteering. A deadly virus that sweeps the globe. Are these last Tuesday's headlines or our future?

In Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake, the answer is both. For Atwood, our future is the catastrophic sum of our oversights. It's a depressing view, saved only by Atwood's biting, black humor and absorbing storytelling.
he novelist Margaret Atwood has wandered off from us before: once, in 1986, to the mid-twenty-first century, for a feminist dystopia, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in which women are enslaved according to their reproductive usefulness; another time, in 1996, to the nineteenth century, to make thrifty use of her graduate work at Radcliffe in the faux-Victorian novel “Alias Grace.” These were forays and raids. In her chronicling of contemporary sexual manners and politics, Atwood has always been interested in pilfering popular forms—comic books, gothic tales, detective novels, science fiction—in order to make them do her more literary bidding. Her previous novel, “The Blind Assassin,” is the best example of the kind of narrative pastiche at which she excels.
I AM going to stick my neck out and just say it: science fiction will never be Literature with a capital ''L,'' and this is because it inevitably proceeds from premise rather than character. It sacrifices moral and psychological nuance in favor of more conceptual matters, and elevates scenario over sensibility. Some will ask, of course, whether there still is such a thing as ''Literature with a capital 'L.' '' I proceed on the faith that there is. Are there exceptions to my categorical pronouncement? Probably, but I don't think enough of them to overturn it.
With her latest novel, ''Oryx and Crake,'' Margaret Atwood takes us back to the future, much the way she did in her 1986 novel ''The Handmaid's Tale.'' Once again she conjures up a dystopia, where trends that started way back in the 20th century have metastasized into deeply sinister phenomena. Once again she has tried to write a cautionary tale about the hypothetical consequences of our current appetites and obsessions. And once again she has produced a lumpy hodge-podge of a book: a novel that's didactic, at times intriguing but in the end thoroughly unpersuasive.
The end of the world would be bad, of course, but books about it are a disaster. Once in a while an author carries off the Apocalypse with some pizazz - St. John comes to mind - but even the best writers have trouble with it. Three years ago, T.C. Boyle brought things to a dismal close in "Friend of the Earth." And now Booker Prize-winner Margaret Atwood is thundering away in "Oryx and Crake."
Arguably the shortest of all short stories, the late science-fiction writer Fredric Brown's "Knock" reads, in its entirety: "The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door." Or, to put it another way, "One day, about noon, going towards my boat, I was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man's naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen on the sand." Whether in Brown's distilled version or in Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe," this scene always tells the same story: A man thinks himself alone, then discovers otherwise.
Environmental unconcern, genetic engineering, and bioterrorism have created the hollowed-out, haunted future world of Atwood’s ingenious and disturbing 11th novel, bearing several resemblances to The Handmaid’s Tale

User reviews

LibraryThing member TadAD
This is what apocalyptic science fiction should be like. I understand that she tends to disdain her work being placed in that genre but, well, that's what this book is.

If you look at some of the mainstays of the category—Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Robert Merle's Malevil, Stephen King's The Stand, et al.—they share the structure that the epidemic/nuclear war/disaster of choice strikes and the story focuses on the survivors coping with the aftermath. I don't want to take anything away from those works (I enjoyed each of them) but, in a sense, they share as much with the adventure story genus as they do with speculative fiction.

Atwood has given us something different. Though she does show us a bit of what the aftermath looks like, it's a minor part of the book...a skeleton upon which to hang the real story: the cautionary tale of why the disaster happened in the first place. (I'm not a fan of spoilers in reviews, so I'll just leave it that the answer to "why?" might surprise you.) In a way, by exploiting that strength of science fiction that allows the author to extrapolate current social forces, Atwood bridges the gap that exists between non-fiction books that caution about what we are already doing and other post-apocalyptic works that posit something went wrong.

Having taken this road, she's done an excellent job, particularly in two areas. The first is the main character of Snowman/Jimmy. He's humorous and charming, even when he's being bad, and it's easy to connect with him. Atwood has made him a product of his particular culture, yet placed him just enough outside of it to give him some perspective for commentary. For me, he was what made the story line work.

The second is her portrayal of society. She managed to capture so many trends (the fetish of youth, a dumbing down of expectation and a rising hunger for "bread and circuses", a growing disparity between the haves and have nots) and weave them together into a picture that passed the test of feeling real whether one thinks we'll actually go that route or not.

I'm ambivalent about the fact that there is a semi-sequel. You will either love or hate the ending of Oryx and Crake—I loved it and might like to leave it there.
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LibraryThing member littlebookworm
Humanity has been devastated by a virus and Snowman, formerly known as Jimmy, is perhaps the only human to have survived, for all he knows. With him are his friend Crake’s perfect creations, people genetically modified to become more perfect than ordinary human beings. They have better ways of sustaining themselves, go into heat like animals to avoid difficult romantic situations, and can even purr to heal injuries. Snowman, however, is having a much more difficult time surviving, and juxtaposes his struggle to find more food with his personal history, his love affair with Oryx, and how he found himself to be alone.

This is only my second Margaret Atwood novel, and after loving The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m really wondering why it took me so long to read another. I adore dystopias and Atwood has created another intriguing world here, if not quite as plausible. When Jimmy was a child, the Corporations ruled supreme, essentially acting as one big government. The world outside of the Corporations was unimportant, the people only used as test subjects and cash cows as medicines were infused with illnesses to keep the market booming. If any worker betrayed insider secrets, they were killed. This was the world of Jimmy’s childhood, and while he wasn’t brilliant enough for a high position, his best friend Glenn, later known as Crake, certainly was. It is Crake who sets out to change everything and puts in motion the events that destroy the world as everyone knows it.

While I couldn’t say I actually liked any of the characters, which was the book’s weakest point, it was hard for me to tear myself away from this book. I was fascinated by the development of the plot; we know early on that the world has changed drastically, but finding out just how and why was riveting. I didn’t like Jimmy/Snowman all that much, due to his escapades with women and his irritating obsession with Oryx, but I loved the curiosities of his world. His struggle to find more food allows us to relate to him even as we dislike him, but it also serves the purpose of guiding us through more of the world.

For me, the best part was the Crakers, the genetically altered beings that Crake created. What I liked about them was that even though they were modified to escape supposed human foibles, they still exhibited that humanity. This was mainly through their acceptance of a god-like story featuring, as expected, Oryx and Crake. Even though they’re reportedly hard-wired to miss out on all mistakes, they are still people and it’s almost as though we can see their mythology evolving. Snowman doesn’t know how else to explain it to them and they latch on remarkably easily. Fascinating stuff, and that really cemented the entire book for me.

Atwood is a remarkable author. Oryx and Crake has convinced me that I really need to get reading more of her work. I certainly recommend this, especially to those who enjoy dystopias and science fiction.
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LibraryThing member stephmo
On the upside, Campbell Scott has been a pleasure to listen to while listening the unabridged audio for Oryx and Crake. If anyone can make things like pigoons, rackhunks, chickieknobs and Extinctathon sound legitimate, he can. Ms. Atwood's story, on the other hand, suffers for this need to compress nearly every modern bioengineering marvel in her future world into a designer dog breed name. Labradoodle issue aside, Oryx and Crake is one of those stories that is compelling enough to read and enjoy, but will never feel like one of the greatest books you've ever read. For every good moment in the book, there are that many more moments of smug cleverness weighing it down. Look, everyone works and lives in the corporation from birth to death - even schools bid on them! or The one playing God will be obsessed with genetically engineering God out of the equation! or Bioengineering will have freakish results! There comes a point where there's simply too much telling and not enough showing in the story when it comes to what the corporations control and what got Crake into his position. While the trip is interesting, one cannot help but wonder if a different path would have taken the journey into something a little less pedestrian. Pedestrian is plenty fine for the morning commute, but this story was definitely aiming higher than that.… (more)
LibraryThing member drachenbraut23
“The male frog in mating season," said Crake, "makes as much noise as it can. The females are attracted to the male frog with the biggest, deepest voice because it suggests a more powerful frog, one with superior genes. Small male frogs—it's been documented—discover if they position themselves in empty drainpipes, the pipe acts as a voice amplifier and the small frog appears much larger than it really is."
So that's what art is for the artist, an empty drainpipe. An amplifier. A stab at getting laid.”

“Immortality,' said Crake, ' is a concept. If you take 'mortality' as being, not death, but the foreknowledge of it and the fear of it, then 'immortality' is the absence of such fear. Babies are immortal. Edit out the fear, and you'll be...”

“Jimmy, look at it realistically. You can't couple a minimum access to food with an expanding population indefinitely. Homo sapiens doesn't seem to be able to cut himself off at the supply end. He's one of the few species that doesn't limit reproduction in the face of dwindling resources. In other words - and up to a point, of course - the less we eat, the more we fuck."

"How to do you account for that?" said Jimmy

"Imagination," said Crake. "Men can imagine their own deaths...human beings hope they can stick their souls into someone else...and live on forever.”

Woah, this was such a terrific read, a powerful rollercoaster ride, scary, dark, but also funny and ironic. It is a book filled with coarse language but sucks you in anyway. The questions raised in this story, nothing new there, but presented in a truly compelling way. Where should we draw the line in regards to gen technological manipulations of humans, animals and nature? Do we deserve to live, with all the power we have to destroy our planet and ourselves? What are the repercussions of what we are creating in regards to our children?

Somewhere, not too far in the future we meet Snowman, who appears to be the only human survivor of a global biological and ecological disaster. Trying to survive in this new situation with genetically altered animals, plants and a new type of hybrid people – not quite human, but not animal either – he slowly faces starvation. Whilst Snowman forages for supplies his story unfolds and we meet the boy and then the man Snowman has been before the catastrophe hit. We hear the story of the boy Jimmy, who grows into a relatively naive and shallow young man and together we hurtle towards the end of the world. We meet Crake his childhood friend, a genius and mad scientist, and Oryx, whom they both loved.

What I loved about the story was Atwood’s incredible imagination. She presents us with pigoons, unique modified pigs used for organ harvesting, rakunks, wolvogs, well then we get ChickyNobbs, happycuppa and the likes, as hardly anything natural is available anymore. Aside from internet porn, games and executions she also presents us with an assisted suicide site called nitee-nite.com, if that’s nothing? This was such a marvelous read, and I am certainly looking forward to the sequel.… (more)
LibraryThing member eleanor_eader
How this post-apocalyptic treasure stayed off my shelf for so long I don’t know… it’s a genre I enjoy greatly, an author I respect, and it’s been recommended to me at least half a dozen times. And yet I picked it up thinking… Oh, okay. Time to read this, I guess. HAH. I just spent two days alternately moved, fascinated, horrified and wearing a wryly cynical smile (that made my cheeks cramp after a while). Oryx and Crake is a tale of the human condition and what happens when someone finds a cure for it.

Two of the principal characters, those named in the title, are gone. The people they’ve left behind are new… plant eaters, naked and colourful, placid and obedient to the wishes of the beneficent Crake, and of the kind Oryx. This pains Snowman – who used to be named Jimmy – because he never got to be a god, despite relaying the wishes of Oryx and Crake to these people for whom he feels responsible, and because all the people like Snowman have been wiped out. How and why, the reader discovers in a delightfully paced, teasing drip of information. Man’s ingenuity remains in their place; Wolvogs, Pigoons, Rakunks. Half-empty bottles of scotch.

The book’s edge over most in the genre is the way the reader is left wondering just how far into our future any of these leaps of writerly imagination actually are. Wry and cynical, the book may be, but it’s unnervingly close to plausible, in terms of societal evolution, and that makes it all the more enjoyable a read.

Atwood writes fabulous prose; so fabulous that it’s hard to mind that she’s just been kicking humanity in the teeth for 400+ pages.
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LibraryThing member labfs39
Hearing the buzz about the book on some of the threads, I requested it from the library for my vacation. I'm glad I didn't buy it. I didn't actively dislike the book, although I found the ending very frustrating, rather I was left completely indifferent.

Jimmy is a bright kid from a slightly dysfunctional family who becomes friends with the new kid in school, a cool geek everyone calls Crake. The story of Jimmy's childhood and early adulthood and relationship with Crake are told in flashbacks, as the real-time Jimmy struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The author manages the transitions back and forth in time deftly, and the two threads come together at the end with a similar dilemma in each. Oryx, the other title character, is a child prostitute and porn star with whom both boys fall in love, with predictable results.

The strident message of the book concerns the moral quandary facing genetic scientists when the world has devolved to a violent and degenerate society whose members struggle to survive on the earth's depleted resources. The warning of "this could happen to you" is felt throughout. Both are typical themes of apocalyptic novels, and I was rather disappointed that I didn't find some special twist or flash of originality, which I expected from an Atwood novel. When the novel ends, or rather, doesn't end, I was left feeling like "so, what? Did I miss something?"
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LibraryThing member teresakayep
This was my second reading of Oryx and Crake, a dystopian novel set at some undisclosed point in the future, probably later this century. Snowman, previously known as Jimmy, is, as far as he knows, the last human left on the planet. On first read, I was absorbed in understanding what was going on and piecing together the narrative. How did these things happen? Is Snowman alone on the planet? Who are Oryx and Crake? In that reading, the book was primarily a polemic on the dangers of science run amok. There are also some musings on art and the impossibility of silencing the spirit. It worked, and I enjoyed it, but as a dystopia, it’s not especially original.

However, this time I was struck with how Atwood seems to be exploring how we construct reality. The scientific aspects of the story involve genetic engineering. The characters are trying to build life that isn’t susceptible to disease, discomfort, or other frailties. But the scientists aren’t alone in that. Before the disaster, Snowman/Jimmy worked in communications, in spin-doctoring. When he talks to the Crakers, he tells them a version of the truth that he thinks they can understand and that will not overly distress them. But the rabbit hole goes deeper. In fact, on this second encounter with the story, I’m convinced that a lot of what is presented as truth in Snowman’s flashbacks is in fact a massaging of the truth, designed to fit Snowman’s fantasies. But where does Snowman’s fantasy end and the truth begin?

See my complete review at my blog.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
In this version of the future, people are objectified and valued on the basis of making money for someone else. The most highly valued are the science and math types who, by researching amazing new products, can earn big money for the corporations that rule the world. A second type, the word people, have a much lesser value as their use to corporations is only in designing advertising campaigns.

Those valued by the corporations live in heavily guarded walled compounds. Everyone else lives in pleeblands which have disintegrated into mass chaos.

One of the ultra science geniuses, Crake, decided humankind was beyond redemption and needed to start over. Since genetic engineering had been perfected and Crake was highly prized by the corporation, he had the wherewithal to genetically engineer a new type of human. These new humans were designed without many of the pesky human traits that Crake felt contributed to humanity's downfall. Said traits include, among others, romantic love, belief in God, agression and competiveness. He was also able to design a fast acting virus to rid the planet of the other sort of human.

The novel opens with these new humans, the Crakers, being watched over by Snowman, a human survivor word person who was Crake's best friend when they were adolescents.

We're given a lady or the tiger type ending and the question--are humans beyond redemption?
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LibraryThing member majkia
Wow. Sadly, all too easily seen as actually happening. I do like that about her work. She imagines a dystopian world that you can believe could happen. You hope to hell it won't, but if things go badly, oh yeah.

I listened to the Audio version of this which worked very well since the book is written in first person. The disjointed telling of a story, some of it current time, some of it dreams, some of it memories that come to Snowman as the book progresses is a very effective method and keeps you guessing about what has happened.

Although you can see the outlines of just how Snowman ended up in his tree quite early on, the details are the arresting feature and oddly compelling. It’s like watching a train wreck or an automobile accident. You want to look away but can’t quite do it.

Certainly a cautionary tale, and one that is all too possible.
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LibraryThing member cmcvittie
In a future all too plausible, thanks to Atwood's research, Snowman (aka Jimmy) is the guardian and teacher of the Crakers. Atwood's love of words and ability to wind a narrative back and forth from flashbacks to Jimmy's life to the bleak life he leads with the Crakers moves inexorably towards an ending that can't be good. Atwood's story-telling powers are at full-strength and even though it seems like there can't be a sequel, I wonder at what will happen in this modern setting where genetically spliced animals and people roam the post Crake-created plague world. Definitely a powerful read for students in grades 10 and up.… (more)
LibraryThing member ScribbleKey
I fell in love with this book from page 1. Thankfully, the rest of it did not disappoint. A wonder of a book. Easy 5 stars.
LibraryThing member sturlington
The premise of this novel, and the details of the future world it depicts, are so outlandish that you must either accept them immediately or stop reading. I accepted them. I was instantly subsumed in the fascinating, disturbing world that Atwood has created.

The novel opens in a post-apocalyptic shore-side wilderness where the only survivor (presumably), Snowman, is barely surviving. He sleeps in a tree and spends his days in a hallucinatory stupor. The only breaks in the monotony are visits from children who turn out to be genetically engineered post-humans, with glowing green eyes and the ability to eat leaves.

Gradually, Snowman — whose pre-apocalypse name is Jimmy — reveals the events leading up to the disaster as he remembers them. He grew up in a corporate compound separated by walls and guards from the “pleeblands,” where the poor lived in crowded, polluted slums. His father worked for a powerful company conducting research in genetic engineering to come up with new products designed to relieve food shortages, prolong life and preserve beauty, resulting in such bizarre creations as the pigoon and the rakunk. As a teenager, Snowman befriends a brilliant but anti-social young man who calls himself Crake, whose genius enables him to attend a prestigious and luxurious university and then get a high-profile job conducting top-secret eugenics research. Crake brings his old friend into the compound where he works, and there Snowman learns that Crake has engineered a new race of people who don’t have many of the “problems” we do.

Also there is Oryx, the beautiful, victimized woman who both men love. Yes, this is a grand story about the downfall of the human race, but it is also the oldest story of all: a love triangle.

This book kept me fascinated and disturbed until the very end. There were so many outlandish details, but at the heart it explores some fundamental issues: the unchecked power of people wielding science, without regard for consequences; the calamitous effects of environmental abuse; the potential within us to destroy ourselves; the follies of playing god. The only criticism I have is that the ending is a bit unsatisfying. It just leaves us hanging. But overall, Atwood is a terrific writer exploring the science fiction themes of apocalypse and dystopia, and Oryx and Crake is a terrific contribution to this genre.
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LibraryThing member StephLaymon
This is my first tryst with a Margaret Atwood book and I was quite taken by her creative genius. The story began in a way that is intentionally confusing, and then unfolded in the most interesting way, slowly uncovering the most fascinating facts that led the world to be in the state that the reader finds things in the opening chapter.

Not only is the world building nicely done, but I was completely invested in the outcome for the sake of the characters. The main character is not very likable, but by books end I was more of a fan of his. Little nods to real world history, conspiracy theories, and government interference make this all that much more interesting.

Oryx and Crake takes place in a dystopia world that seems largely unrealistic at first glance, but Atwood has a way of making all of the oddities all seem quite imaginable.

There is a huge, and I mean the hugest of cliffhangers in the end, which I am never ver fond of, but I can forgive it for the most part because I feel like I did get the answers to the questions that the book was intended to deliver, thus getting a complete story. The cliffhanger was one of those deals that just insures that the reader will come back for more, and I will.
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LibraryThing member Gwendydd
Very well-written, thought-provoking, and disturbing. Atwood skillfully jumps back and forth between a post-apocalyptic dystopia, and the story of how the dystopia came to be. This world is frighteningly close to what ours could soon be: climate change has had catastrophic effects on ecology and society, genetic engineering (particularly of food) runs rampant, a wealthy scientific elite hide themselves from the poor rabble of the world, and it is perilously easy for a disease to wipe out humanity. Atwood not only describes this world in vivid language, she also skillfully and subtly explores its implications.

[semi-spoiler alert!]
My only complaint about the book is its ending, or lack thereof. The book just sortof stopped, right before what could have been a climactic moment. I suppose Atwood was aiming for an unfulfilled feeling: the dystopia is a new world, so in a way it is appropriate for the book to feel unfinished. But after such a long and emotionally-charged journey, I was really hoping for something bigger and more meaningful in the ending.

I listened to the audiobook, and thought it was very well-read.
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LibraryThing member Maggie_Rum
A futuristic story of two young boys, who grow up during a drastic environmental disaster. One grows up to become The Snowman, one of the few humans left wandering around, while the other becomes the mastermind of a new race. A believable, readable fantasy.
LibraryThing member goose114
The story opens with Snowman describing his current situation and environment. There has been some kind of event that has eliminated humans and a new species has emerged. Through flashbacks and memories of Snowman the story of how this has occurred is explained.

I was captivated by this story. The way the story was told through the intermingling of Snowman’s current state and through his memories created confusion and made the discoveries more impactful. I didn’t feel a particular connection to any of the characters, but it made the detachment that Snowman felt more real. If you like dystopian literature this is a great book to turn to.… (more)
LibraryThing member kgodey
I've only read one Margaret Atwood book before, The Handmaid's Tale, which I thought was a great book. (I really need to buy myself a copy at some point.) Even though that was quite a disturbing story, I found Oryx and Crake infinitely more horrifying. Perhaps it is because The Handmaid's Tale was about a whole system, and told the story of individuals caught in it. Oryx and Crake is about the individuals who created the system, and it is much more horrifying when individuals change the course of the world, and you see an intimate portrait of who they are.

The blurb on the back of the book is pretty vague about what the book is about. I think I got a lot from the experience of letting the book unfold without knowing much about it, so I don't want to talk too much about what happens. We follow Jimmy, alias Snowman, in his life after the "flood" that wiped out humanity as he watches over the Children of Crake. Much of the book tells the story of Jimmy and how he ended up in this situation, as well as the stories of Oryx and Crake, as seen through Jimmy's eyes.

The future world is pretty appalling – corporations have secured cities called Compounds where their employees live and work. The rest of the world live in "pleeblands" – dangerous, lawless cities. Corporations dominate the world, using advanced scientific techniques to create animals, pills, self-help tapes – anything that will increase their profit margin and make consumers even more dependent on them.

However, the real focus of the book is on the characters. Jimmy, Oryx and Crake are all characters with serious problems, but it seems like everyone in that world has serious problems by modern day standards. Jimmy makes a very interesting narrator, he seems so hapless (and has terrible survival skills) and stupid, compared to the people he reminisces about. Jimmy the neurotypical, as he is called at one point. Since we only see the other characters through his eyes, we don't know what actually happened and what is just his interpretation of what happened. He is not without his own insecurities, so it is quite probable that his opinions are coloured by them.

I don't think I can say much more about the book without ruining certain plot elements, so I won't say much more. All the characters' psychologies are scarily real, and this book stuck with me for days afterward. I still keep occasionally thinking about parts of it.

I will read The Year of the Flood, set in the same world and part of a proposed trilogy, but not until a couple of months have passed. It would make me too sad to read it right away.

Originally posted on my blog.
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LibraryThing member lieslmayerson
Taking place in a not so distant future scape, Atwood presents a strange and cold world. One of the parts of the book that alarmed me and has stuck with me most was the entertainment in this future world. Atwood presents this shocking concept of 24 hour live feeds for different interests including a rape channel. But then I realize with the transition in entertainment to reality TV and why we have transitioned to it for the most part -- enjoying others' embarassment or pain -- makes me wonder how far we are from this future. I would reread this book and would recommend it.… (more)
LibraryThing member cbjorke
I heard a radio interview with Margaret Atwood, promoting her latest book The Year of the Flood. She mentioned that some characters and the speculative scenario were common to this earlier novel. In preparation for reading the new one I went down to the local library and checked out Oryx and Crake.

Atwood describes Oryx and Crake as "speculative fiction," as opposed to science fiction, by which she means there are no space ships or aliens in the book. I think that Atwood is trying to differentiate herself from the pulp science fiction that some of us so dearly love, myself included. I would call the book a Vulcan mind meld between science fiction and literary fiction. The book begins in the middle with a protagonist named Snowman who lives in a tree house and wraps himself in a dirty sheet as if he never quite made it home from a toga party. His neighbors are a group of innocent naked vegetarians that look up to him as some sort of prophet or high priest. It's not at all clear what is going on at first - or second, or third. As the novel progresses Snowman's past is revealed bit by bit and Atwood's science fiction speculative scenario unfolds. By the time I reached two thirds of the way through the book it began to become clear to me what was going on.

Atwood takes contemporary issues and asks "what if." This is what really good science fiction does. Like Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz and Nevil Shute's On the Beach. Atwood gives us a post apocalyptic world. In this case, it is our current obsession, climate change and another contemporary issue, genetic engineering, that cause the apocalypse, and not nuclear war, the favored end times scenario of the 1950s and 60s, when these books were written. What if the Earth warmed up to the point that Canada had a tropical climate? What if corporations had their own cities, gated communities writ large, that separated their privileged employees from the dangerous unlawful, disease ridden "plebe lands" occupied by the rest of humanity? What if plants, animals and microbes, customized for commercial purposes, escaped into the wild and were able to survive and reproduce?

As might be expected one of those diseases, a raging airborne hemorrhagic, breaks loose and kills almost everyone. The naked people, a group of genetically engineered, disease resistant and socially manipulated post-humans, created in one of those corporate compounds as an experiment, that Snowman is living among are one exception. The genetically engineered "pigoons," wolvogs," "snats" and "rakunks," all animals created with the combined genes of different species, are the survivors, along with Snowman, for reasons not apparent until near the end of the book.

It is hard to write about Oryx and Crake without letting out some spoilers. Even knowing what you now know will take away some of the initial confusion, but perhaps also the frustration, of reading the first chapter or two. Atwood wants the reader to wonder what is going on with Snowman and who these friendly naked people are. It seemed as though he were a stranded Robinson Crusoe figure on one of Ursula LeGuin's planets, among her hermaphroditic humanoids. No aliens, indeed.
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LibraryThing member Bookmarque
I meant to read this when it first came out, but I am really hit or miss with Atwood, so I gave it a miss. But the lure of another post-apocalyptic novel was great and I’m very glad to have read it. I can barely write about it though since it has so many layers and aspects. The story is told through flashbacks and while many references are completely unknown at first, I was drawn in completely and wanted to know everything. From the very beginning I was curious and felt as if I were in the story, not merely observing it.

At first it was very hard to follow the invented vocabulary – pigoons and racunks, pleeblands and BlyssPluss. But eventually things straightened themselves out. Immediately we understand that the Crakers are physically different from Snowman and have no perception, memory or understanding of the world before. One scene shows Snowman trying in vain to explain what toast is to a bunch of people who have no conception of electricity, breakfast, bread, wheat or kitchens.

That difference is staggeirng - a world with toast and a world without. Fascinating and hard to imagine. Great speculative fiction. Not science fiction per se as the science is admittedly weak. But excellent characters and perspectives.
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LibraryThing member patito-de-hule
[Oryx and Crake] has enjoyed numerous great reviews in LT, and I concur with many of them. I gave it four stars rather than five because of the amount of coarse language. Coarse language is necessary, however to tell this story properly. I do feel constrained to say something different about the book than what is already said in so many of these reviews.

The novel is the first book of the MaddAddam trilogy. It is a dystopian novel covering a period of about 25 years in an unspecified future. While several references to current events are called “ancient,” the technology for the most part is not that far-fetched for the near future. In fact, I don’t think it in any way a spoiler to mention that a casual reference in the second book of the trilogy to Sojourner Truth who “lived two centuries ago” would put the whole of the book in the mid-21st century.

Wikipedia defines The garrison mentality as “a common theme in Canadian literature and Canadian cinema, in both English Canada and French Canada. In texts with the garrison mentality, characters are always looking outwards and building metaphorical walls against the outside world. This mentality is assumed to come from part of the Canadian identity that fears the emptiness of the Canadian landscape and fears the oppressiveness of other nations (especially the United States). The term was first coined by literary critic Northrop Frye and further explored by author Margaret Atwood, who discussed Canada's preoccupation with the theme of survival in her book [Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature].

The definition is apt and applies to this novel because the protagonist Jimmy/Snowman and the title characters are Corp men living inside corporate compounds with limited access to the outer world, the so-called “pleeblands.” It is a violent world of corporate espionage, which is the rationale for the limited access of the Corp men to the pleeblands. Access is closely watched by the corporate security corps, the aptly named CorpSeCorps. They do produce corpses! The “metaphorical walls” in the definition are not so metaphorical. In this volume of the trilogy, the action mostly takes place as a series of flashbacks by Snowman who is living outside the corporate world in a tree after a world-wide catastrophe implied, but not yet specified. In his present state he is alone but for a group of gene-spliced men designed by Crake. Appropriately they are called Crakers.

The social issues touched upon in this novel are primarily violence, runaway technology, resource depletion, and global warming. Violence is casual; it occurs, though in different ways, both inside the corporate compounds and in the pleeblands. It is often sexual; Oryx starts out in an indefinite Asian Country as a child sex-slave imported to America where she ends up with Crake. Jimmy and Glenn/Crake started together in high school as friends until they go their separate ways in College. (They will come together again, but I don’t want spoilers here.) They play computer games together (Crake is a genius at it) including watching pornography and real time executions here. Jimmy is promiscuous; one almost wonders at times if Crake knows what that thing is for. This is the area where the course language, of course, becomes almost gratuitous.

Runaway technology is represented by gene splicing. It is here that the speculative fiction gets perhaps a little far-fetched. If the story is set in mid-21st century as I suggested, then we’ve a little ways to go to get go gene-splicing rakunks (cute raccoon skunks) or pigoons. The latter neologism refers to pig+balloon because of their size/shape. They are built to contain human organs to be transplanted to their owners in case of later need. When escaped into the wild, they are dangerous because of their size and because they have parts of human forebrains, giving them an uncanny intelligence even for a pig. And, of course, like pigs they are omnivorous and eat like pigs. Another danger is the creation of perfectly designed humans, the Crakers. Ethical issues here are suggested, but are mostly left in the background.

Resource waste and depletion is rife. Real meat and real veggies are rare. Artificial, manufactured, and gene-splice foods are the regular fare. Happicuppa ® coffee is made from gene-spliced beans. I won’t say where the Secret Burger comes from. And so on. Global warming has come to this twenty-first century world, and executives winter on the Hudson Bay to enjoy the cooler weather. Weather is extreme with severe storms every day and frequent tornados.

The book can be read as a stand-alone; it tells the story of Oryx and Crake and of Jimmy, but it leaves threads hanging. The minor characters are picked up in the second book. I can only guess at what Margaret Atwood will do with the third, but I do feel presently that I am left two legs of a tripod. My metaphor for a trilogy like [Lord of the Rings] would be three sections of an extension ladder.
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LibraryThing member Aeroette
Similar to other works of Atwood's, this is a dystopian novel which depicts a future that is not too easy to discard as a possibility. This one centering around genetic experimentation and the creation of a supervirus to wipe out mankind. I thought the book was intriguing and thought-provoking. The story was well-developed as well as the characters, with a little mystery included to add drama. I enjoyed reading it, but also found it a bit disturbing at times. I would recommend to anyone who likes science fiction or dystopian type novels. It certainly leaves you thinking about the story even after the book has ended. As I see it, that's always a mark of a good read.… (more)
LibraryThing member atreic
I loved the Handmaid's Tale, but put off reading this book for literally a decade. Perhaps it was the feeling that it was the last chocolate in the box and I was saving it. Perhaps it was that Margaret Atwood's 'I don't write Science Fiction' comments annoyed me. Perhaps it was that I was scared it couldn't live up to the hype.

Whereas actually it was amazing. It is beautifully written - the writing is not excessively florid, but is rich and engaging and perfectly crafted. It also pulls together a myriad of ideas, and while perhaps none of them is entirely new the world it creates and the parallels it draws between them makes the entire book very fresh. For example
- genetic engineering! What would the world be like if we had more power over nature and over our health?
- the gap between the luxuries of the upper middle classes and the miserable enclaves where poor people live
- relationships with parents, discovering they are flawed, fitting into a home where you're not the centre of the world and your parents have their own priorities and disfunctions
- coming of age, watching friends go on to greater things, finding your place and realising it's not that important
- what is good? If we could replace evil and striving with happy simple beautiful vegetarianism, and the jealousy of love with simple joyous copulation like the animals, would the world be better?
- A survivorship story about being the Last Man, and remembering a destroyed civilisation
- Do the means ever justify the end? How genius becomes mad genius
- How we exploit other people and other countries to get what we want - child trafficking and sex abuse
- the evils of big business - if we put power in the hands of corporations, what will they do to keep making money?
And I'm sure there's lots more I can't think of right now.

So yes, lots and lots of cool things going on in this book, and yet it never feels cluttered or incoherent or trying too hard - the story is strong and at the heart of it all, and draws you in. So glad I finally read it!
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LibraryThing member CaitlinAC
I read this book for a posthuman course at university. While I think the writing is very intricate and complex, this book just wasn't my cup of tea.

Atwood is a good writer, to be sure. Very imaginative and bold. Part of what makes this story so effective is that some of the technologies don't seem too futuristic. We already try to alter our looks with technology, we already have scientists creating food in labs, etc. So the future Atwood proposes doesn't seem too unlikely which is really unsettling.

I know this is the first in a series, so that's why the ending was so open. However, I didn't like that it just cut off since there was so much build-up to Jimmy "Snowman" finding other humans.

As I said, the writing is very smart and well-done, but the pacing is slow and overall this book was just not something I enjoyed reading.
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LibraryThing member scofer
Atwood is one of my favorite authors and did not disappoint with this one. The book opens in a world where the narrator may be the only human left on earth and the story jumps around between times leading up to and after the event that appears to have destroyed the remainder of humanity. This one took me a bit of time to get into but, once it got going, I was hooked.… (more)


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